Caucasus: A Region in Turmoil

Article excerpt

Russia is not at war with Chechnya only to stamp out Islamic rebel forces. Chechnya is situated at the heart of a region vital for securing trade routes to the vast oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. Alex Smailes witnesses the civilian suffering, in September 1999, at the start of the Russian offensive

An Ingush soldier looks over the oil fields in Ingushetia. Previously Ingushetia was part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic. When Chechnya declared its independence from Russia in 1991, shortly before the break-up of the USSR, the Ingush separated from Chechnya and formed their own republic. Today Ingushetia is one of 21 Russian republics. Controlling Chechnya is important to Russia as losing control risks the destabilisation of the entire Russian Federation. Chechnya is one of many `hot spots' where ethnic minorities are threatening to rebel against Moscow's rule. Russia fears that there could be a widespread challenge to its territory

Mustafa, aged 12, was injured in the leg in eastern Chechnya. He is pictured here in the children's hospital in Grozny with his favourite toy, a plastic gun. Casualty figures vary according to which side issues them. By the beginning of this year, Chechens claimed 15,000 dead; 38,000 injured and 220,000 refugees

Ismail, aged four, is taken care of in the Republic Surgery hospital in Grozny. Dr Lesma Muslimov, the most highly respected surgeon in Chechnya confesses to a terrible reality: "Relatives have to pay for medicine and bandages and some of the poorer families can't afford even this. They take their injured away and we never see them again. I don't know what happens to them."

This old man, Isa Musayeve was on holiday visiting his brother Idris when the bombing raids started in eastern Chechnya. His brother, who was driving, was not able to take cover in time and was killed in a neighbour's yard along with another woman. …